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Archive for February, 2009

Zombie Talking Points

[ 0 ] February 23, 2009 |

Social Security is, as we all know, a very popular and very successful program. For a variety of reasons, centrist pundits in general and the Washington Post in particular have a huge fetish about undermining it in various ways. Recently, CeCi Connolly — yes, the same one whose gruesomely bad campaign reporting helped to put George W. Bush in the White House — got into the act, asserting that a “handful of changes that would prevent the retirement fund from going bankrupt.” Of course, Social Security and its large dedicated funding stream are not going to “run out of money” or “go bankrupt” ever; there’s a (far from certain) possibility that the trust fund generated by Social Security tax surpluses will run out of money. This is a different issue, but of course if you state the issue honestly it’s hard to generate support for gutting Social Security decades before a not-terribly-difficult-to-resolve problem may or may not need solving.

So, of course, it makes perfect stance for the Washington Post to stand by their man George Will. After all, they’re willing to let Connolly tell bald-faced whoppers about Social Security just like she invented statements and attributed them to Al Gore. And if you can do it on their news pages, I suppose their op-ed pundits deserve no less consideration.

[X-Posted to TAPPED.]


Jim Bunning Explained

[ 0 ] February 23, 2009 |

With apologies to Marmaduke, it seems worth noting that Jim Bunning is an asshole.

This Is Excellent News For the Republican Party

[ 1 ] February 23, 2009 |

In comments, America’s most dangerous professor directs us to this Jacob Weisberg classic, which puts his comments about Hillary’s excessively ambitious and calculated iPod and how it spells doom for the Democrat Party in the relevant context. Even if you haven’t read it, you know the argument: unnamed and uncited war opponents “appear not to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously,” which we can tell because for some mysterious reason they don’t see the invasion of a country that posed no security threat to the United States and had no substantial relationship with anti-American terrorism as a logical part of a response to 9/11. And, most importantly, the acceptable boundaries of foreign policy discourse are established by Jacob Weisberg (and such boundaries can never involve opposing even the most misguided war when it matters, and also always seem to mean that nobody else is opposing the war in the right way even if it’s gone so badly that nobody can defend it.) All of which leads to this highly convincing argument about why Ned Lamont’s victory means that the Democrat party is doomed, doomed, especially if they nominate an anti-war candidate like Barack Obama:

In a similar way, the 2006 Connecticut primary points to the growing influence within the party of leftists unmoved by the fight against global jihad. Nixon had the gift of hippie demonstrators and fellow-traveling bluebloods like Ned’s great uncle Corliss Lamont as antagonists. Today’s Republicans face an anti-war movement with a different tone and style, including an electronic counterculture of enraged bloggers and callow entrepreneurs like Ned himself. Yet the underlying political dynamic is not altogether different.

Whether Democrats can avoid playing their Vietnam video to the end depends on their ability to project military and diplomatic toughness in place of the elitism and anti-war purity represented in 2004 by Howard Dean and now by Ned Lamont. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for 2008, is trying to walk this difficult line, continuing to express support for the war in principle while becoming increasingly strident in her criticism of its execution. As the congressional elections approach, many Republican candidates are fleeing Bush’s embrace because of his Iraq-induced unpopularity. But Lamont’s victory points to a way in which Bush’s disastrous war could turn into an even bigger liability for the Democrats.

I think we can all agree that the disastrous failure of the Bush presidency was excellent news for Republicans. After all, I created a playlist for Howard Dean on Pandora and a Jewel cover of “The Bewlay Brothers” came up, and…well, must I paint you a picture? It’s all deeply connected with the demise of the Democrat Party in ways you hippies could never understand.

Saving Me A Review

[ 0 ] February 22, 2009 |

I definitely agree with the “backlash” position on Slumdog Millionaire. It’s not just how embarrassingly cliched the last third or so of the movie is — not so much a Bollywood tribute as a tribute to Hollywood triumph-of-the-underdog-who-gets-the-girl-too-in-an-even-more-dreary-subplot movies — but that these cliches undermine the best parts of the movie, making the whole less than the sum of the parts. Although I would vote for Van Sant among the five nominees I don’t necessarily begrudge Boyle his inevitable best director award; it’s a tribute to his style and craft that the movie is as entertaining as it is despite its considerable flaws. But if the screenplay wins it’s a joke.

In addition, I should also say that The Wrestler isn’t just a movie with two great performances, it’s a tremendous movie, period, easily the best American movie of the year. For a full account, I’ll outsource to Stevens and Scott. One thing I do want to address, though, is the idiotic argument (sometimes made by defenders of the film) in some quarters that it’s just a Rocky clone with better acting/direction. I can’t imagine missing the point more. Pro wrestling makes such a great subject for a movie — and avoids the sports movie cliches that mar this year’s Best Picture winner — precisely because there can be no heroic triumph (or near-triumph) when there’s nothing to win. Neither the pre-destined winner nor the loser in wrestling are permitted the dignity of competition that made Rocky seem like a winner even when he lost, and the implications of this are explored with great effect. And there are lots of other nice touches — for example, the amazing scenes of the washed-up wrestlers hawking VHS tapes at the American Legion hall, the parallels between pro wrestling and sex work that are never belabored or (so rarely in the age in which Aaron Sorkin is considered a genius) theorized about by the characters. There are some minor flaws: in particular, the movie needed either more or less of the daughter, and ultimately the attempt to create a substantial arc with little screen time created a last scene between them that was glaringly implausible and sitcommy. But overall it’s a superb piece of work, and in addition to Rourke being a great story it’s gratifying to see a director of considerable promise and less accomplishment really pull it together.

I guess this should be an Oscar open thread.

…nice to see the shutout to the Maysles.

…I suspect a lot of pools just died on the best foreign film award.

…he is a great actor, and it’s certainly not surprising — you had to bet on him — but I’m still pretty disappointed that Penn won and Rourke’s historic performance was overlooked.

From Colony to Superpower XII: The Calm Before…

[ 0 ] February 22, 2009 |

Chapter XII of From Colony to Superpower covers the period between 1932 and 1941. This is, as far as I can recall, the first time that Herring has broken up a presidential administration across chapters. This is, of course, a sensible enough move in the context of the Roosevelt administration…

Herring goes into some detail on international efforts to ameliorate the Great Depression. FDR does not come off well; he has little interest in accomodation with Europe, and minimal diplomatic skill. Given the immense size of the US economy relative to any European economy, this pretty much doomed the effort to create a multilateral response to the Depression. In fairness to Roosevelt, the international economy was not nearly as institutionalized in the 1930s as it would be post-war, but I suspect, nevertheless, that much good could have been accomplished by focusing on the disaster that was overtaking the entire Atlantic community, rather than to disaggregate the problem into a series of separate, national disasters. Although Roosevelt certainly understood the nature of the crisis, he may not have fully grasped its international dimension, or the possibility that international action could remedy, if not solve, certain aspects of the Depression.

Wholly apart from the Depression, the decade 1931-1940 was, of course, quite eventful. Roosevelt followed Hoover’s non-confrontational policy with Japan over Manchuria, but he did break with precedent by extending full diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union. Herring doesn’t dwell overmuch on Roosevelt’s conduct of relations with Japan, hitting the high points and moving on. It does merit note that Roosevelt’s Asia policy was well within the American mainstream in the first half of the twentieth century; the US strongly preferred access to China, and was willing to take a number of steps short of war to preserve that access. What changed between 1931 and 1941 was the Japanese invasion of China, and then (perhaps more important) Japan’s linkage with the European Axis and Japan’s seizure of French Indochina. The notion that Roosevelt “forced” Japan into war hardly merits attention; Japan was dependent on US resources in order to pursue its conquest of China and SE Asia. In response to US pressure it could have abandoned such policies; while the outcome of the oil embargo was predictable, it doesn’t follow that Roosevelt was responsible for the Japanese decision.

While the US maintained diplomatic relations with Germany well into the Second World War (although the US ambassador was recalled in 1938), there was never much question as to where Roosevelt’s sympathies lay. Herring’s account doesn’t differ from most other accounts of this period in suggesting that Roosevelt was willing to take reasonable risks on behalf of the United Kingdom, and that he identified Nazi Germany as a serious threat to American security. These steps are familiar; exchange of military information, loans, arms exports, Lend Lease, and eventually direct cooperation in the anti-submarine war. By December 1941, the United States was already de facto at war with Germany; Hitler’s declaration of war simply made things official, and opened American coastal shipping to U-boat devastation.

US relations with Latin America reached a high point during this decade. The US didn’t have the means to muck around in Central America or the Caribbean, nor did Roosevelt have much of a taste for such adventurism. The result was the Good Neighbor policy, which minimized chances for intervention while continuing to push trade contact. The situation became somewhat more complicated with the rise of German influence in Latin America, leading the US to make a variety of trade and political concessions in return for the excision of German capital and advisors. For example, Mexican nationalization of US owned oil assets in 1938 brought hardly a peep from the US, as long as Mexico agreed to minimize its contacts with Japan and the European Axis. Military-to-military connections (these would eventually grow into the School of the Americas) also began during this period.

More soon…

Sunday Battleship Blogging: Danton

[ 1 ] February 22, 2009 |

The Dantons were the last pre-dreadnoughts constructed by the French Navy. They were also the only pre-dreadnoughts to employ turbines, and as far as I know the only 20th century battleships to have five funnels. Danton, lead ship of the class, carried 4 12″ guns in two twin turrets, 12 9.5″ guns in six twin turrets, displaced 18300 tons, and could make roughly 19.5 knots. The speed and armament made the ships a good match for the Austro-Hungarian Radetzkys, which were about a knot faster but employed reciprocating machinery.

The biggest problem with the six ships of the Danton class was that they occupied the main French building slips for about two years each, meaning that France lost critical time in the dreadnought race. It is commonly argued that they were obsolete prior to completion; in fact, they were obsolete prior to being laid down. It is unclear why the French persisted in building the Danton class given their obvious inadequacy; Dreadnought was larger, faster, and carried more guns and heavier armor. Danton was laid down in 1906, and Mirabeau, final ship in the class, was laid down in 1908. Nevertheless, France did persist in constructing the design, which left the French Navy roughly a generation behind in battleship construction; the Courbets were not competitive with American, British, or German designs when they entered service in 1913 and 1914.

Danton’s World War I career was largely uneventful. She spent most of her time protecting convoys traveling to and from North Africa. Especially in the early part of the war, the French were concerned that the Austro-Hungarian Navy would sally forth and attack the convoys. No such operation ever materialized, however. Danton also helped guard the Dardanelles in order to prevent a sortie by Yavuz Selim. She did not, however, participate in operations designed to force the Straits. On the afternoon of March 19, 1917, Danton cruised into the patrol area (just south of Sardinia) of U-64, a German submarine operating from Austria-Hungary. Danton would become one of U-64’s forty-six victims; 296 men would sink with her. U-64 was herself destroyed on June 17, 1918.

During surveys for a trans-Mediterranean pipeline, the wreck of Danton was discovered in an excellent state of preservation. Although the ship apparently rolled over several times on her way down, she landed upright, and retains many of her guns and superstructure. Plans for the pipeline have moved by about 300 meters at the request of the French government, which views the wreck of Danton as a war grave.


[ 0 ] February 21, 2009 |

I hate to break this to you, but Alan Keyes is inherently incapable of putting anything “back on a burner.” It’s more like putting the Obama birth-certificate non-controversy into a broken microwave that isn’t even plugged in, and having some crazy person keep pushing buttons hoping that something will happen.

I do think it’s always worth remembering that Our Liberal Media gave this gentleman a prominent prime-time talk show. About how he was making sense.

…I suppose it’s not surprising that the guy who thinks that Alan Keyes can make a non-controversy relevant was also impressed by Ann Coulter’s rigorous research methods.

The Internet Company For People Who Thought Kozmo Was a Great Business Model

[ 0 ] February 21, 2009 |

Apparently, Roger L. Simon’s New Book, I Used to Consider Myself a Democrat, But Thanks to 9/11, I’m Outraged by Chappaquiddick: And That Must Be Why I’m Not Getting Work, It Certainly Has Nothing To Do With The Fact That My Prior Projects Were Commercial, Critical And Artistic Fiascoes has been released. And it seems that one of his first acts as Trainwreck Media’s CEO was to pay $100,000 for a useless branding service. (Maybe it was the same company that did the fascinating research into their “mean average” customer?) Really, the guy is the ideal mark; I think you can see why he lurches from Maoism to Bushism. What’s funnier is that in this case he managed to find an even bigger sucker to put up the cash. I guess this is how explains how Maddoff could stay afloat for as long as he did…

And, at least, Simon is going down in further flames of hilarity:

Depends TV has a brilliant business model: After a three-day weekend with no content, give away nearly 3/4ths of your content for free — with no advertising. Charge your paying suckers for an 18 minute video on social media, presented by a fucking chiropractor. Make the 3/4ths you give away so mind-numbingly awful that you couldn’t pay people to watch it.

Apparently, this is the “replacing Sammy Hagar with that guy from Extreme” business model.

No Investments

[ 0 ] February 21, 2009 |


The clients who trusted Bernard L. Madoff still do not know exactly what he did with their money. But they know what he did not do with it: He did not buy any of those blue-chip stocks and Treasury bills listed on their account statements over the last 13 years.

The court-appointed trustee who is winding down Mr. Madoff’s business said on Friday that his team had searched records going back almost to 1993 and found no evidence that any securities were bought for investors during that time.

One theory had been that Madoff was investing, but that at some point the investments went south, and he couldn’t pay off all of his commitments. Turns out not so much; just a straightforward pyramidponzi scheme from the start.

Note to self: After establishing extremely lucrative pyramidponzi scheme, make CERTAIN to regularly update escape plans…

Against the Mileage Tax

[ 0 ] February 20, 2009 |

Ygelsias and Black are completely right about this, of course. The point is to tax the specific negative externalities of driving rather than just driving per se, and in addition the new higher implementation costs work at cross-purposes with the additional goal of raising revenues. And this, about the politics, also strikes me as obviously correct:

I don’t get why people think that “well, it’s politically infeasible to raise the gas tax, but voters will just love it if we set up a costly system to track all of their driving habits and send them a bill for how much they’ve driven.” Just weird.

It’s a really bad idea.

Corporate Offices Have Relocated, Apparently

[ 0 ] February 20, 2009 |


At least Eric Rauchway’s mail suggests that he has a real job. Does Oxford know something I don’t?

Zack Snyder?

[ 1 ] February 20, 2009 |

Obviously, you don’t expect much from ew lists, and this one is actually better that the “New Classics” one Glenn references, which featured not only more than its share of The Truman Show-type middlebrow schlock, but also had movies that probably weren’t one of the best 100 movies of the year of their release (Jerry Maguire, Pretty Woman, etc. When a list of “most overrated” directors is released, I nominate Cameron Crowe for top spot.) But, still, this list of best directors is pretty problematic. If you’re going to play it safe, at least get Marty in the #1 spot. And, no seriously, Zack Snyder? (Ahead of Ang Lee and Paul Thomas Anderson!) Was Joel Schumacher unavailable? (And it seems to me that, his talents notwithstanding, your #6 guy should have directed more, how do you say, good movies.) Well, at least they didn’t include Michael Bay.

[Via Jessica.]

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